Embodied Depth: Re-interpreting the Park in St. James Town

Birch Path and Senior Co-housing: Public Hallway
Embodied Depth in St. James Town: Revealing Latent Depth and Sensorial Qualities on Site
Re-framed Ash Grove
Rain-Canopy and Flea Market
Wind-Bridge Connecting Senior Co-housing to Existing Tower
Section Through Reverberant Community Kitchen
Community Kitchen: Slow Submergence
Aspen and Sound-Modulating Facade
Sound-Modulating Facade Mock-up Model
Library Filled with Aspen Sound
Rhythm of Movement on Cultural Promenade
Paley Park Layered Thresholds Generating Slowness

Primary Author

  • Jiyeon Kim

Institution

  • University of Waterloo School of Architecture

Professor

  • Rick Andrighetti (Professor/Continuing Lecturer)

Dean

  • Anne Bordeleau

Assignment

St. James Town in Toronto, a cluster of post-war tower blocks that serves as a gateway community for many newcomers, is marked by an extreme spatial flatness and anonymity. Harsh delineation of private and public realm hinders inhabitants’ connection with the city and fellow city-dwellers. St. James Town’s notable flatness is rooted in the 1920’s urban planning vision of Towers-in-the-Park, which is described by Le Corbusier as “a city made for speed”. This urban model is not particular to Toronto, but applies to many modernist cities built in the 1950s. It is important to note that the underlying goal of Radiant City was the preservation of calm and solitude within a metropolis. Comparing Le Corbusier’s approach to expanding space and lengthening time with that of Japanese garden offers an insight into the current issue of urban intensification. Author’s personal experience of tactile spaces within the city leads to identify ‘landscape engagement’ and ‘layered threshold’ as the main approaches to generating embodied depth in a metropolis.

Project Statement

The thesis reflects on the loss of slowness and experiential depth in the age of acceleration. The “contrived depthlessness” of modernity, as described by Fredric Jameson, can be traced back to contemporary culture’s fixation with appearances, surfaces, and instant impacts. Modern architecture favors enticing forms and transparency at the price of tactility and the slow unfolding of spaces. Arguably, loss of slow sensory engagement in cities results in the loss of empathy – a growing de-sensitization and emotional numbness aggravated by remote sensing technologies such as GPS and satellite imaging. These technologies increase the distance between the observer and the observed, and speeds up the process of observation. Alternatively, “vision in the twilight” – a deeply attentive way of looking that captures subtle variations, wavering outlines, and ambiguity – when used as a method of urban planning, holds key to restoring depth and complexity of our spatial experience.

Project Description

Based on the fundamental value of a deep embodied space as a catalyst of memory and appropriation of the cityscape, the thesis proposes a series of landscape and architectural layers at multiple scales including: an urban block, individual towers, and pocket gardens. At the scale of urban block, diversity of paths and social programs generate varying rhythm of movement and sensory transitions to heighten our sensory awareness. At the scale of a tower, the design approach is as following: existing social programs on site initiates new public programs; plant species are chosen for the specific sensory engagement that relates to the type of program; and finally architectural form and material are chosen to amplify this engagement. For instance, the proposed Counseling Center, conceived as a promenade of sound, attempts to heighten our aural awareness by staging specific sound encounters with the landscape. Façade of the library within the Counseling Center lengthens the fluttering sound of aspens by adding reverberation. Size, depth, and configuration of the façade modules control the direction and intimacy of aspen sound. The Counseling Center is designed to be permeable, both in terms of program and envelope. Various zones form and merge depending on the particular season, time of the day, and type of activity. This permeability strengthens continuity of spatial experience and temporality. The thesis deems that the ethical role of architecture in the age of acceleration is to restore the natural slowness of experience and strengthen our sense of the real.

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Birch Path and Senior Co-housing: Public Hallway